The contemporary version

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10406660_1654455424807792_205609269653793429_nThe Wesleyan covenant prayer has been making the rounds again. It is a beautiful prayer that I myself find moving and effective. This year I have seen a new contemporary version of the covenant prayer that claims to be in the Wesleyan tradition. At first I was pleased. I think that there is some value to changing the language of traditional prayers and the like to more contemporary language is a good and valuable thing. It does aid in understanding, it can help newer generations understand the ideas and beliefs of those who have come before them. Those are good things all in all. All to often, especially recently, there has been a trend toward “contemporary versions” meaning something different that updating language, but also to updating, and thus changing, meaning. To often “contemporary version” has come to mean “more appropriate to the postmodern self-important individual as authority crowd.”

The contemporary version of the covenant prayer does this in a small, and perhaps to some subtle, way. It changes what is said. It caters to those who would deny the historic teachings of the church so that they can pray the prayer yet still keep with their interpretation of scripture, the creeds,etc. Not the church’s interpretation, their own.

In this particular piece of contemporary revision, the reference to the Trinity (“And now o glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit”) is replaced with something else (“and now, o wonderful and holy God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer”).

First, the language used here is not an updated version of the original text that communicates the same idea in language better understood, it is a complete removal of the Trinity. Why? The only reason that it would make sense to remove the reference is because it is not easily explained or even completely explainable, so it has to go so that it can be inclusive of the beliefs of others. There are inevitably some who will claim that it only removes the gender specific language but the meaning is the same…that is, in a word, crap. The Trinity is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If you are somehow offended by the usage of gender specific words, then there is no theology of substance there anyway. If we can not call Jesus “The Son” then there is a huge problem. He was a boy and He was a son. He was even the Son of God. How is the Holy Spirit gender specific? Trying to eliminate gender references is little more than a politically correct attempt at watering down the message of the gospel so that it is palatable to all, but effectively means nothing. It is an attempt to make it about us as individuals. It is a symptom of a root problem.

I know, it’s just a meme, and even just one in a series of memes that is expressing similar ideas. They express a faith that is not the faith of the church, is not the faith described by the church, but is a faith decided by individuals. Yes, we have an individual faith Jesus Christ and the work on the cross, but that faith was not intended to destroy the authority of the church, or even challenge the authority of the church to, at the very least, set the boundaries of what is Christian belief. Yes, it is just a prayer and a bad meme, but it does represent a common idea and practice in the church today to set our own theologies and to accept anything as truth subjectively rather than absolutely. The truth taught by the church is not subjective, it is absolute.  To be fair, Jesus did ask the question “who do you think I am?” but it was not rhetorical and there was a right and a wrong answer. He did not ask it to imply that we all get to answer the question how we want, but rather to establish that there was one correct answer. That one correct answer does not need a “contemporary” translation to change it’s meaning. It’s meaning rather is living and true and therefore always already contemporary.

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11 Replies to “The contemporary version”

  1. “creator, redeemer, sustainer” is a two-fold heresy. One, it individualizes the Church’s teaching, giving authority to the subjective whims of the individual. Two, it reduces the Trinity to roles and thus results in modalism, the ancient heresy of Sabellianism.

  2. Page 2214.
    The New Oxford Annotated Bible, NRSV, 4th Edition, 2010

    The fourth context of early Christian interpretation was provided by disputes among Christians. For early Christian communities, two questions above all others exercised exegetical and theological thought: namely, (a) how does Jesus relate to God, and subsequently, (b) how does Jesus’ relationship to God affect his status as a human being? Since many biblical texts seem to present quite different answers to these questions, interpreters pored over any hint at a theological solution. The debate surrounding the former question, termed the “Trinitarian controversy,” centered on analyzing and systematizing texts that mention God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit at the same time, such as Jesus’ baptism in Mark 1:1-11 and triadic formulations such as in 2 Corinthians 13:13 and Matthew 28:19. Justin Martyr argued that, according to biblical texts, Jesus was “another God and Lord,” thus sacrificing clear monotheism to preserve Jesus’ divinity. By contrast, monarchianists such as Sabellius (ca. 220) and Adoptionists such as Theodotus of Byzantium (ca. 190) emphasized biblical texts that supposedly revealed Jesus’ humanity in order to protect monotheism. For the most part, early Christian theologians worked with a clear assumption of a unified and coherent witness of the entire canon of scripture as well as an expectation that exegesis results in necessarily logical and systematic doctrine. These hermeneutical guidelines, inherited from in part from Jewish sources, directed early Christian exegetes to resolve in some manner the various discrepancies found in the disparate texts within and between both Old and New testaments. For example, early Christians recognized that a coherent doctrine of God and a definitively unambiguous statement of Jesus’ relationship to God are not found in the Bible. Thus, the Bible’s various ways of presenting God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, were reconciled by formulations hammered out by the imperially backed councils of Nicea (325 CE) and Chalcedon (381 CE). From its very beginnings, Christian biblical interpretation thus became the driving force of theological reflection throughout the history of Christianity.

    1. Just for completeness, note a curious anomoly. NSRV has no 2 Cor 13:14. NSRV verse 13 is the same as NIV et al verse 14. And the conclusion; Creeds are a result of harmonizing text (by a bunch of 4th century Catholic – emphasize CATHOLIC, Bishops), not a lightning bolt, direct revelation, or vision, unanimously experienced by the conclave. So take it with a grain of salt and pepper. No road to hell.

        1. I dunno either. Guess we’ll find out when we’re dead. But until then, or a direct vision defining the specifics, I will keep an open mind.

        2. And I might add – Pre-Pauline creed from Romans 1:3-4, “Who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh, who was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead”, brings up other issues. I must add, if God wanted to elaborate specifics, and direct us to a “one true path at the exclusion of all others”, (with all other paths leading to hell), he should have written “Doctrine for Dummies”, and not been so nebulous.

          1. I don’t think St Paul or others believe all other paths lead to Hell. st Justin and the Orthodox today believe there is wrong (not false) and right (Orthodox).

            The Creeds did exist before the text and especially as baptismal formulas.

          2. But the Pre-Pauline creed I mentioned differed from 4th century creeds. Thus the pre-text creeds weren’t exactly consistent, either.
            Although it seems to fit what you said on your latest post…”In summary of these many viewpoints, little doubt should remain that early Jesus followers treated the crucifixion of Jesus as the first and most important narrative of the faith”. And not necessarily “Father, Son, Holy Spirit relationship”, which the 4th century creeds emphasized, simply because of the Trinitarian Controversity itself.

            I didn’t mean to imply Paul thought one path – others go to hell. I think that jumps into place in more modern times – like Fundamentalists, and extremely conservative – it seems – Methodists.

          3. about Paul and hell… you can’t find him mentioning it.

            My point is, is that the creeds develop and then merge into one later. Each of the creeds, tho, are focused and orthodox. Shoot, even the creed of 325 came partially from Arian circles. But, merged, they became the statement of the church.

          4. By the way…
            If I was going to Cuba in a week, I’d worry more about my passport, visa, and how to sneak a Cuba Libre, while immersed in the Cuban Methodist tradition. Have a good trip. Doctrine of creeds is the last thing I’d be thinking about 🙂
            I think I’d be considered a Jack-Methodist.

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